By Dr. Randall Hanifen
Over the next few months, several state and national fire conferences are coming up. The Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Association Conference starts this week, and the Fire-Rescue International conference will be held this August in San Antonio, Texas. The Firehouse Expo Conference will be in Columbus, Ohio, this September.
These fire conferences, as well as many other state conferences, boast a great lineup of safety, operations, administration and leadership courses. Many conference organizers are also including networking events in their conference schedules, giving attendees valuable time to form useful connections.
Formal Learning at Fire Conferences
The formal learning at these fire conferences typically takes place in classrooms. Each conference has different educational tracks that allow fire officers, chief officers and firefighters to learn a variety of information related to their fire departments.
Conference attendees are often allowed to pick which courses they want. Fire-Rescue International even has officer development tracks that equate to a certificate once those tracks are completed, similar to a Fire Officer 1 course.
The advantage to allowing fire conference attendees to pick their courses is that no two fire departments are exactly the same, so that attendees can learn from each other. Fire departments are all at different stages of change, but some basic issues are often the same no matter what fire department you visit.
For instance, all fire departments have recruitment and retention issues. From the smallest volunteer department to the largest urban fire department, the number of people interested in joining the ranks is dwindling.
We are all faced with new technology, such as systems for extinguishing battery fires in electric vehicles, and fire departments have leadership issues in their organization. Depending on officers and organizations, the strategy and tactics class at fire conferences may attract the chief of the department in a small organization and a firefighter from a larger organization.
Today’s leadership philosophies that including engaging even the newest firefighters means that it is important to have all ranks attend a variety of fire conference sessions. Maybe a firefighter was a recruiter in the military prior to joining the fire service. Who would be better to help with your recruitment and retention efforts?
While it may seem unnecessary the fire chief of a larger organization to sit in a class that discusses vehicle batteries and the fires they can cause, staying up to date with current technology is essential. An organization’s chief will need to communicate fire code changes and equipment needs for electric vehicle fires to elected officials and community groups.
Informal Learning at Fire Conferences
For anyone who has been to fire conferences knows, it is the informal learning that often trumps the formal classes. It is the leaders in organizations, regardless of rank, who attend these fire conferences.
By putting all of the smart, action-oriented people in the same conference room, good ideas are generated. Also, attendees can learn about quite a few innovative approaches to overcoming fire department issues.
Fire conferences are also a chance for many committees and special interest groups within fire associations to meet, discuss their projects, and set upcoming agendas. Attending one of these meetings is a great way to develop a network of useful contacts, so that you have people to reach out to when you need advice or other information.
Apart from a select few groups, I have not met any groups that would not be 100% inviting to new members and welcome their attendance at meetings. While many conference committees and special interest groups have an official roster and must elect people to different positions, they have a lot of work and are often ecstatic if someone is willing to help.
Tips for Making the Most Out of Fire Conferences You Attend
If you work for a fire department, you probably have a list of needed changes in your organization. Be sure to determine your organization’s top priorities and ensure that you are attending the conference courses that answer those needs.
Look around when you are in a few of the conference classes, and you will likely find people with the same motivations and goals as yourself. Interact with these people, and you will find that you can help each other.
Also, check out available committees and special interest groups to see what interests you. Make the most of your time away at fire conferences; we can always make more money, but we cannot make more time.